Leon Koehl sat on the bench as a substitute for German top-flight club Bayer Leverkusen’s final Bundesliga match of the season in May 2023.
Three months later, he was with Maryland men’s soccer.
Koehl had two other options: stay with the German team he spent his youth career with, or transfer to one of the Netherlands’ first or second divisions. But after a tour of Maryland’s facilities, he chose the Terps.
He faced a tough transition from one of Europe’s top leagues to college soccer in the United States. Koehl faced numerous challenges, such as learning a new language, returning to school for the first time in two years and even getting acclimated to new food.
Despite that, the freshman has thrived in Maryland. He’s started all ten games he’s played and logged the third-most minutes on the team. Koehl and Alex Nitzl have formed the heart of Maryland’s formation. Both have experience playing in Europe’s academy system and feed off each other to improve their games.
Nitzl, a senior who also started extensively as a freshman, helped ease Koehl’s moving process.
“He supports me very much,” Koehl said. “He always gives me advice, that was one main reason why I came in because I always had a background if something goes wrong.”
Koehl and Nitzl use their similar upbringings to understand each other on the pitch. They have an understanding of what the other will do next, a trust that formed quickly.
“I know I can do this because he’s going to be there to cover me,” Nitzl said.
The two also share a language. Both speak German and English, providing an on-pitch advantage whether they’re suddenly switching tactics or expressing frustrations.
That gives them an in-built connection.
“I can literally scream over the whole field and tell him what to do or what we should do right now in German,” Nitzl said. “No one’s gonna know and that’s a huge benefit.”
The midfield duo have lined up next to each other in seven matches this season — one of them being a Terp victory. Coach Sasho Cirovski sees their partnership growing even in that short time.
The coach credited Nitzl for creating a relationship with Koehl and making the freshman comfortable on and off the field.
“He’s a terrific leader in that way that gets people into a good place where they can play well and they can feel good about themselves,” Cirovski said.
Maryland is nearing the end of the regular season, with Big Ten play resuming Sunday against Michigan State. As the season dwindles, Koehl and Nitzl continue to learn from one another.
Koehl is trying to learn the best way to lead a team from Nitzl. The senior wants to emulate the freshman’s relentlessness and his shooting ability.
“That motherfucker takes shots from everywhere, and it’s good,” Nitzl joked – earning a laugh from Koehl.